Dan Beard, the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives, supports the people's house of government with just about any service they request, from budget managing to campus maintenance to technical computer help. So when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi handed him the difficult challenge of greening the U.S. Capitol, Beard and his 700 employees embarked on a series of improvements based on ideas from the House leader as well as some of their own.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that an institution as internationally renowned as the U.S. House should set the precedent for what should and can be done to preserve and protect the environment. In March 2007, she took the first steps toward making her House a green house.
Eighteen months later, with the help and cooperation of many departments, a program called “Green the Capitol” is underway and receiving praise and recognition.
Government waste of the good sort
Beard and his team kicked off the mission by greening the most popular place on their campus: the cafeteria. They started a composting program, which reduces the volume of food waste by ten to one. The compost is sent to nearby facilities where it biodegrades and then turns into soil in 90 days. Approximately 700 tons, or 80% of the House’s food waste, is now taken to these commercial composting facilities, according to a recent report.
In addition to composting food, the House now offers new fully biodegradable bottled water that can be added to the compost bins. The bottles biodegrade in less than three months, and are made from plant-based plastics that take 65% less energy to produce than regular plastic bottles.
The cafeteria offers different types of recycling bins to encourage proper disposal of waste, as well as a new line of completely biodegradable packaging and utensils, also compostable. Both composting and recycling bins have extended beyond the cafeteria into each House member's office, so employees have no excuse for not being mindful of their waste.
10,000 Points of Incandescent Light
Among the more arduous of tasks taken on by Beard’s team was the relighting of the Capitol Dome. The exterior lighting scheme had to be reconfigured to include environmentally friendly energy-efficient lighting. According to Beard, the most difficult part of modernizing the Capitol was changing the lights in the many old chandeliers throughout the buildings, mainly due to the fact that they are hard to reach and very fragile.
In an effort to reduce energy consumption, the House replaced 10,000 incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs. The House has also purchased renewable wind power for 100% of electricity use, and switched from coal to natural gas in the Capitol Power Plant, according to the report.
Greening transportation was an important part of the program, and has been a tremendous success. Fuel-efficient vehicles called Zipcars that use less energy and reduce carbon emissions are used by employees for short trips around Capitol Hill so they don’t have to drive everywhere. A zero-emission electric vehicle was also introduced, and is used to haul furniture and office equipment around the campus. The House also offers a bike-sharing program called Wheels4Wellness, where employees check out bicycles for a free and healthy alternative to driving around the campus.
What's still to come in the Capitol greening program? Two upcoming projects will focus on decreasing energy consumption by consolidating House computer servers, and cutting the runtime of heating and air conditioning systems throughout the House.
Employees in Beard's CAO office also plan to use more reusable plastic crates rather than cardboard boxes for office moves, purchase energy efficient products, buy plants for their offices, use green cleaning products, and reduce paper consumption by doing more of their work electronically rather than printing documents. They even plan to use environmentally friendly window blinds and use refurbished refrigerators that would otherwise have gone to landfills.
“The House is a symbol of American democracy, therefore it is not enough for us to follow trends or create admirable appearances. We must continue to lead by example. And this, we will do,” said Beard.
On March 9, 2009, Nancy Pelosi will hold a press conference where she will discuss both the success of the Green the Capitol program thus far as well all plans and goals for future greening projects of the 111th Congress.
Something in Congress to be proud of